Canterbury Cathedral is one of England’s most famous cathedrals and is considered the first Church of England. Founded by St Augustine in A.D. 597, Canterbury Cathedral is a unique place of worship, a work of art and architecture and one of the England’s most-visited historic sites. The cathedral has been at the center of several major historical events. It’s currently the seat of the archbishop of Canterbury, and a resting place of many saints and royalty.
This historic Gothic-style cathedral also served as a rich and powerful monastery of the Benedictine monks in the 12th century. Because of its prominence and due to the famous murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket that took place there, Canterbury Cathedral continues to be a significant historical site.
In A.D. 597, the pope sent St. Augustine from Rome to Kent, England to convert the English to Christianity. Settling in Canterbury, he quickly established the beginning of Canterbury Cathedral. The remains of this original cathedral can be found underneath its current nave.
The cathedral eventually became a Benedictine monastery, and in 1070 it was completely rebuilt following a fire. A century later, the cathedral became the site of an infamous crime — the murder of Becket.
Becket, who had been made archbishop by King Henry II, soon began to clash with the king, mostly as to whether his loyalty lay with the king or the church. Frustrated at Becket’s refusal to bow to his will, the king famously asked, “Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?” Four of his knights took his outburst literally and murdered Beckett inside the cathedral.
Canterbury Cathedral continued to operate as a monastery until King Henry VIII disbanded it in 1540. He also destroyed the shrine to Becket, now symbolized by a single candle.
Over the next few centuries, Canterbury Cathedral was renovated and underwent many changes. Some of these were due to damage that was caused during the English Civil War. The Gothic architecture and its magnificent ceilings feature stunning and colorful fan-vaulted designs, and the stained-glass windows are also magnificent, as are the cathedral’s charming gardens. The Canterbury Cathedral Library on-site contains more than 50,000 books with many books printed before 1501. In addition, the library contains nearly 200,000 documents — the oldest of which dates from the late eighth century.
Today, Canterbury Cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with some of its oldest parts, such as its crypt, dating back to the 12th century. There are guided tours available at the site; however, visitors are also free to visit through self-guided or audio tours. For more information, visit www.canterbury-cathedral.org.